Stand in the Storm
What parting words will the Apostle John leave us with? Join Dr. Marty Baker as we wrap up our 1 John series.
Closing words for a key person in your life are ones you don’t, and shouldn’t, forget.
My father’s mother and my grandmother, Lilly, had eleven children: ten girls and one boy. She also had sixteen brothers and sisters, while her husband and my grandfather, Whiteford, had ten siblings himself. Based on these stats, you can see just how many relatives I had growing up.
Not long before my grandmother’s death, my father’s sisters let all of us cousins know at a family gathering in South Carolina that grandma wanted to speak to all of us. We all crammed into the small living room, some in chairs and others on the floor. Grandma Lilly sat in front of us on the couch. Her loving smile, kind eyes, and tender hands set the stage for her big talk to us about what she, a godly woman, wanted to see in our lives in the years ahead.
She spoke with us about the importance of obeying our parents and underscored how important it was to know Jesus and be people of the Word of God. Nobody made a sound as she shared her life of wise, holy living, and we all knew that when she finished, we had just witnessed a significant event in our lives, something we’d never forget.
John was a spiritual father and grandfather to the seven churches he pastored and wrote to in I John. Those churches experienced deep doctrinal divisions based on false teachers who had infiltrated their ranks; some relationships became frayed, some left church never to return, and others struggled with maintaining an intimate walk with Jesus in the middle of the storm. Throughout his first cyclical letter to these believers in their churches, John addressed the false teachers and their vacuous teaching, seeking to unmask them for their departure from biblical truth. He also sought to teach the saints how to identify false teaching in the future and achieve an intimate, life-changing relationship with the true God-man, Jesus Christ.
With his final words in chapter five, verses 18 through 21, the aged shepherd sat his spiritual children and grandchildren down and taught them how to answer a pivotal spiritual question:
In An Age of Encroaching Evil, How Do You Guard And Advance The Faith? (1 John 5:18-21)
John gives us four closing answers and challenges we’d all do well to apply for optimal spiritual results:
Do Remember Your Unique Promise (1 John 5:18)
John has discussed this thought-provoking theological concept in 1 John 3:9-10; however, like a wise teacher, he closes with it again to drive its importance home to us.
18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.
The opening verb, we know, or oidamen (Οἴδαμεν ) in Greek, is a perfect tense denoting a past act with a lasting result. By using this particular tense (which doesn’t often occur in the New Testament), John underscores that what he is going to say is accurate at all times, no matter what false teachers might articulate or misguided believers might think: Born-again believers do not sin and God protects them from the Devil.
Immediately, you have issues with John’s statement, don’t you? Why do you struggle? You struggle because you know you, as a saint, do sin. Additionally, you struggle because if this statement is true, it logically flies in the face of what John has taught in this pastoral letter. Here are a few examples:
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then this statement utterly contradicts 1 John 1:9, which calls believers to maintain lives of confessing sin.
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then the imperatival summons in 1 John 2:28 to abide in Christ by living a holy life would be without warrant or reason.
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then why does John imply some saints will be ashamed at Christ’s glorious revelation in 1 John 2:28?
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then this contradicts John’s command in 1 John 2:15, which attempts to stop a sinful action in progress based on the presence of the negative, mn (Μὴ) wedded to the present tense command, love ( ἀγαπᾶτε).
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then we are self-deceived according to 1 John 1:8, and we are inadvertently calling God a liar because He says we do sin (1 John 1:10).
- If it is true believers don’t sin, then why does John tell us we have a divine defense attorney in heaven, Jesus Christ, for those moments when we do sin (1 John 2:1)?
Since the law of non-contradiction is true in logic, we know both positions cannot be true simultaneously in the same sense, meaning we can’t say both positions are true: believers sin and believers don’t sin. One is true, and one is false based on biblical evidence. So what are we to think? How do we resolve this thorny theological enigma?
Most, like John MacArthur, take the present tense verb, sins, hamartanei (ἁμαρτάνει), and they add the word “continually” before it. Hence the translation: “We know that no one born of God continually sins.” MacArthur even goes so far as to assert that no believer can live in an unbroken pattern of sin. The NIV adds this word to the translation, even though it is not in the Greek text: “18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.” (1 Jn. 5:18 NIV).
There are several problems with this solution.
One, Greek has a phrase for continual, dia pantos (διὰ παντὸς, Heb. 13:15; Luke 24:53 ). Why didn’t John use this short phrase so as not to leave so much hanging on the subjective application of an understanding of a particular Greek tense? The Greek present tense does not always mean “continual.”
Two, if we apply this same grammatical solution to places like 1 John 1:8, we end up with a real theological dilemma. How so? 1 John 5:19 and 1 John 3:9 supposedly tell us believers don’t “continually sin.” However, this is problematic if you apply this to 1 John 1:8, for it would read, “If we say that we have no continual sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Based on this, I think it is placing too much emphasis on the present tense construction of the verb.
Three, how should we classify “continual” sin? Is it when you don’t sin five times, once a day for five weeks, or once a week for five years? Really, what would continual sin pragmatically mean? Classification of continual sin would naturally be entirely subjective. Along these lines, could we not say the Ephesian believers were guilty of continual sin? In chapter 4:25-30, Paul takes them to task on sins they were currently committing over and over again. This is denoted, likewise, by the presence of the Greek negative, mn, plus the present tense imperative. For example, “Let him who steals stop stealing” (Eph. 4:28, Ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω). Further, the Corinthians were guilty of being perpetual carnal (sinful) Christians. Paul classifies them as such in 1 Corinthians 3:1-5. After being believers for several years, they should not have been carnal. Still, they were continually engaged in evil, godless pursuits, many of which Paul addresses in the terse letter.
In light of this, what is John getting at? I think he is merely highlighting the believer’s unique position in Christ. As a born-again person who has gone from death to life and from spiritual darkness to light at the moment of faith, who you are in Christ cannot sin. Your position in Christ is holy and sinless and will remain as such until you see Jesus face to face. And because of this beautiful spiritual position, the “evil one, or the Devil, cannot touch you, meaning he can’t undo your spiritual birth and destroy what God has created at the moment of faith. As Paul writes, “17Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5). Nothing, not even the ol’ Devil, can undo this spectacular spiritual creation caused by the living Lord and Creator of the cosmos (Col. 1:16-17).
The Devil’s minions work overtime at shipwrecking and marooning the faith of saints, as we have seen in First John. They specialize in confusing people with false doctrine, causing division between folks, sowing seeds of doubt and fear, and making some saints wonder if their faith is secure. If they have done any of this to you in our morally and spiritually twisted, tainted world, then rest assured that God has your back. There might be storms inside the church and in the culture at large, but like Noah hidden with his family in the protective ark, God is the author of your spiritual birth, and no one or nothing will ever take that from you.
Do Remember Your Unique Power (1 John 5:19)
John continues his emphasis here on presenting contradicting motifs:
19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
There are only two groups of people in the world, or in this church: those who know they are God and those who are not of God. Further, some rest in the power of God, and others rest in the power of the Devil.
It is helpful to read various translations of this verse:
NIV 1 John 5:19 We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
NKJ 1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.
Each translation attempts to underscore how the present world is polluted by and subservient to the presence of the Devil. According to Paul, the Devil is the prince and power of the air surrounding this world (Eph. 2:1-3). As such, he is the power working in those Paul labels as “the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). In Revelation 12:9 and 20:3, John informs us how the Devil perpetually works to deceive the whole world, to believe in falsity over truth, and to embrace evil over good. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul adds this about the Evil One:
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4).
Satan blinds people in any way he can to keep them from becoming born-again believers. If pragmatism works, he’ll use it. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try hedonism. If that doesn’t get results, he’ll try scientism, humanism, relativism, etc. His bag of tricks is big and deep, and he is relentless.
He and his minions are behind bloodthirsty movements like abortion. They infiltrate universities to dupe and warp young minds, so they turn against truth, logic, and the faith of their forefathers. They give drug cartels new ideas for pushing their products to maximize profits and destroy lives. They work to cause people to think that gender options are normal and noteworthy. They motivate politicians to lie and deceive to consolidate their power while disregarding parts of the Constitution and laws they don’t like. They, well, I’m sure you can fill in the blank. The power of the Devil’s influence is everywhere, from books you pick up at the bookstore to Facebook posts you read. The world will continue to lie in the power of the Devil until the Lord deals with him at the end of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20).
Until then, what are we do to as born-again believers? Here’s John’s advice: Realize we are, as John says, born of God. As such, you are God’s child of light, living among those who are children of darkness. Ostensibly, this means we should do everything within our power to point others to the power of the gospel, which transforms sinners into saints. Paul reminds us of our mission with this statement: “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom. 1). When this occurs, the power of the Devil is diminished, and the kingdom of Christ advances. Who will you share the gospel with? This week is election week, and it proves to be a wild one. Do we need new politicians to “save us?” No. We need new people, people renewed by the eternal transformative power of Christ’s gospel. When people are saved and go on to live like saints, society cannot help but be healed and helped.
Read through Acts, and you’ll quickly learn how the NT Church impacted cultures worldwide. Wherever saints traveled, they spoke about the time and space resurrection of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. They didn’t debate the problems within Roman and Grecian politics. On the contrary, like Paul of Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17), they spoke about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18, 31). This is our power in pernicious, perilous times! An old hymn puts this all in perspective with these memorable, moving words:
1 Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There's pow'r in the blood, pow'r in the blood;
Would you o'er evil a victory win?
There's wonderful pow'r in the blood.
There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
2 Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There's pow'r in the blood, pow'r in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary's tide–
There's wonderful pow'r in the blood.
A third concept John says saints should focus on in tough, testy times is this:
Do Remember Your Unique Position (1 John 5:20)
What he says here is jaw-dropping:
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
He says we firmly believe Jesus came in time and space. It is not something we hope happened. We know it happened. How? Extra-biblical historical writes attest to His life and horrific death: Cicero (Against Verres, 2.5.64; Pro Rabirio 9-17), Tacitus (The Annals, 15:44), Josephus (Antiquities, 18:64), Lucian of Samosata (the Greek satirist, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, mid-second century), the Jewish Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a). This is, of course, not to overlook the wealth of evidence from the gospel writers who wrote with excellent specificity about Christ’s person and mission. According to Matthew and Luke, he matched the Davidic lineage of the Messiah, and His intricate fulfillment of precise prophesies about the Messiah validated that He was no mere Jew but the long-awaited God-man foretold by the prophets of old (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Mic. 5:1-2).
I know Jesus, the Son of God, left glory to come to earth to die for our sins and rise from the grave on the third day because I’ve studied the historical, logical, and revelatory evidence. I also know He came so that I, along with all other believers, might have a vibrant, excellent personal relationship with Him on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. Along these lines, I love the old hymn “In The Garden.”
1 I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
2 He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing. [Refrain]
3 I'd stay in the garden with Him
Tho' the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go; thro' the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling. [Refrain]
I don’t know how many times I’ve sung that song to myself and to Christ as I’ve worked in my yard or in someone else’s yard (when I was a young gardener as a newlywed). I know He, the God of glory, wants to know me, and He has made it possible for me to know Him deeper every day as I lean into the relationship with all I’ve got. You, saint, are no exception. Don’t ever forget that your life is built on the foundation of the truth of the gospel and the Word of God. You have the spiritual truth, which means you don’t need to look elsewhere. Your search for purpose and meaning is over, for you found Him and He you. He, and He alone, is the true God, and the eternal life He gave you at the moment of faith (John 3:16; 5:24-25) drips with truth.
Why ever would you fear anything this world hurls your way? You wouldn’t and shouldn’t, for you have a real, divine Friend. His name is Jesus, and He is with you every step of the way as you walk life’s path.
Lastly, John gives us a negative warning because he knows us:
Do Remember Your Unique Problem (1 John 5:21)
In the seven churches in Asia Minor, what John says here made so much sense:
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
You couldn’t live in these cities and not bump into an idol. Ephesus had a temple to Artemis, the sex goddess, another for Domitian the Emperor, and a nice one for Isis. Smyrna had temples to Domitian, Roma, Zeus, Cybele, Nemesis, Aphrodite, and Asclepios . . . the snake god of healing. Not to be outdone, Pergamos had temples to Zeus (a whopping forty-feet high as it loomed over the city from an adjacent acropolis), Asclepios, Athena, Dionysus, Athena, and Trajan. Yes, idol worship permeated these cities. If you wanted to be accepted in society, you made sure people saw you worshipping at the various idols. If you wanted to keep your job, you made sure you worshipped the gods highlighted by your place of employment.
What was or is an idol? Here is what the Greek word meant according to Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon:
εἴδωλον, ου, τό strictly form, copy, figure; hence (1) an object resembling a person or animal and worshiped as a god idol, image (RV 9.20); (2) idol, false god, with reference to demonic power involved in idol worship (1C 10.19).
An idol either was the god in question, or it served as his or her representation on earth. The first two Mosaic commandments prohibited God’s people from lowering the Almighty down to this degrading level:
3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me (Ex. 20).
Unfortunately, the ancient Israelites tended to give into peer pressure and pursued worship in this fashion, as did people in the Asian culture John wrote to.
Idolatry is still alive and well in some cultures, but in our culture, it is more hidden, but it is there. What is idolatry? Alexander MacLaren, a wise Scottish Baptist minister in the 1800s, defines it this way:
For what does John mean by an idol? Does he mean that barbarous figure of Diana that stood in the great temple, hideous and monstrous? No! He means anything, or any person, that comes into the heart and takes the place which ought to be filled by God, and by Him only. What I prize most, what I trust most utterly, what I should be most forlorn if I lost; what is the working aim of my life and the hunger of my heart---that is my idol. 
Ah, now you see how an idol is still a genuine problem. No wonder John closed with this bit of counsel. He knew nothing would destroy a saint’s intimacy with Jesus faster than getting that saint following after an idol, be what it may.
So, what about it? With the advance of the power of evil until Jesus returns (1 Tim. 3), there is always the temptation to get distracted from Jesus by substituting Him with an idol. Are you distracted? By whom? By what? Is there any person you are more in love with than Him? Is there any cause you are captivated by which has nothing to do with your Lord? Is there a philosophical worldview that drives your life like nothing else? Is there something you’ll get up early for, which never happens in your relationship with Jesus? Are their books which take precedence over His book, the Bible?
An idol called Gnosticism did great destruction to the churches John pastored, but through this short letter, coupled, I’m sure, with sound shepherding, he watched them grow and flourish once again. May we keep idols at bay, and may it start today.
 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, Dana and Mantey’s A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 290:1.
 Norman Geisler, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2013), 282-284.
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 206.
 Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scriptrue: John, Jude, and Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942), 45.